Managing the Cost Barrier – Jeremy Hedrick

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  Posted by: Dental Design      29th November 2017

Functional dentition undoubtedly decreases with age. Yet, it has been revealed that most people of a pensionable age still have at least some natural teeth. Certainly, practitioners need to be prepared to offer dental care to a larger number of older adults in the foreseeable future. But how can you get a steady flow of these patients through your practice’s door?

It is probably fair to say that the older generation prefers a more traditional service. They want that personal touch and are not necessarily interested in an online booking system, a high-tech app or text message reminders. To put it into context; the Office of National Statistics reported that only 41% of adults aged 75 years and over are internet users, and although this figure increases each year, it is vital that the dental practice is not just another place where the older generation feels that they have been left behind by society.

Your practice needs to be age-friendly, with an easy-to-use and efficient telephone service operated by well-trained, understanding staff. A significant number of older adults prefer to telephone the dental practice to make an appointment, and many of them will not be using a smart phone either. For the most part, they prefer to use a landline from home and want to speak to a real person who will patiently engage with them. Push-button instructions or automated messages can sometimes be frustrating and confusing for older patients, and most would also prefer to have the details of future appointments on a card to transfer to a diary or wall calendar.

Of course, it is critically important for older people to visit the practice regularly and maintain good oral health as it can significantly impact general health, nutrition and confidence. For obvious reasons, the dental practice must be easily accessible for anyone that visits. But it is also wise to remember that some patients are not comfortable using the abundance of self-service machines that seem to occupy many modern environments. These patients do not want to ‘check in’ using a touch screen in reception. They want to see a friendly face, perhaps have a little chat to welcome or reassure them, if it is needed. It is also appreciated if the dental practitioner greets them by name and remembers something about them. This shows that they take an interest in all their patients and strengthens the all-important patient/clinician relationship.

Patients find it easier to build trust with a friendly, engaging dental team, and they are more likely to absorb and comply with advice they are given in a positive environment such as this. They should not feel that the practitioner is rushing or does not have the time to answer their questions, as sometimes older adults might require a little more time to make decisions. Treatment options, for instance, need to be explained carefully. As we know, the NHS has bands of treatment, which include ‘clinically necessary’ treatment, but even though there is no support towards private dental treatment costs, older patients still have that choice.

For example, it has been predicted that tooth loss will remain relatively common in older adults, and for many, the options available on the NHS may not be pleasing or convenient. Understandably, patients should never be pushed into having private treatments or procedures, but they may prefer to opt for a more costly but also more aesthetically pleasing alternative such as a dental implant. Similarly, private cosmetic procedures are becoming increasingly popular in patients of all ages, and those practices that can enable patients to manage the cost barrier are the ones that stand to benefit the most.

The Healthy Discounts Plan designed by Munroe Sutton makes private dental care more affordable. Though it is not insurance, it is an uncomplicated plan, and members pay a low monthly fee to receive a 20% discount on the majority of dental treatments. Practitioners are directly reimbursed, and as a reward for charging lower prices, the practice is introduced to the unique Munroe Sutton dental network of healthcare, insurance and financial institutions along with free marketing to a wealth of potential patients.

Some of your older patients may not connect to the internet or social media, but they do talk. Word of mouth recommendations are always beneficial for your business, and if your practice is age-friendly and offers great discounts, it will be the talk of the town.

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